Running out of options, WB chooses sea dredging site, may disrupt 50-year-old tire reef

Most of the Wrightsville Beach berm is gone, limiting the space available for swimmers, who now set up camp closer to the dunes. Vehicles have a harder time crossing soft sand, and the city has already restricted access to the bare minimum of emergency vehicles. (Port City Daily/Preston Lennon).

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH – Sand flows along the shores of Wrightsville Beach. A risky offshore dredging plan appears to be the only way forward.

The city’s renewal plan for April 2023 will not remove the dirt from Masonboro Inlet, as it has for years. Instead, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is funding and executing the city’s resupply, is targeting two offshore sandbars about a mile outside the mouth of Masonboro Inlet.

READ MORE: Congress approves Wrightsville Beach replenishment money

There is only one problem: the sites are near an artificial fish habitat created with 300,000 tires.

In the 1970s, the Department of Marine Fisheries started a tire reef program to attract fish. The practice was discontinued many years ago, but the tires still float and wash up on beaches in Wilmington and other coastal communities, especially during storms.

According to Wrightsville Beach City Manager Tim Owens, the USACE calculated that enough sand could be extracted from the sandbars even if they worked around the tires, which is a best-case scenario. Removing the tires completely would take a lot of time – time the beach doesn’t have – but disturbing them could cause environmental damage.

The City’s Coastal Storm Damage Reduction Project is 100% federally funded.

Government officials are skeptical of the proposal.

The New Hanover County Executive’s office sent a letter to Owens on June 27 outlining its concerns. The letter states:

“NHC considers the use of this offshore borrowing site to be an extreme and unnecessary risk given [Masonboro] The quality, quantity, accessibility, minimal ecological inconvenience and regulatory compliance of the Inlet borrow site.

County staff are concerned that maneuvering equipment to avoid tires will extend the project schedule and decrease productivity, while endangering species. If the project takes longer than expected, staff say seasonal shore access will be negatively affected by an influx of washed tires.

According to Owens, he is unsure of the exact reason the USACE is refusing to return to Masonboro Inlet, where sand has been “recycled” since 1965. He explained that the benefits of this site are its ability to accumulate sand. sand using a jetty, which provides plenty of sand for shoreline nourishment that erodes into the inlet.

USACE Wilmington District Public Affairs Specialist Jed Clayton explained that the change is due to a July 2021 reinterpretation of environmental regulations.

The Coastal Barrier Resources Act 1982 protects undeveloped coastal areas – Masonboro Island is one of them – and prohibits federal funding from being used for development projects in these areas. The intent was to eliminate federal responsibility for building structures in coastal barriers. These projects are associated with the loss of natural resources, threats to human life, health and property, and the expenditure of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

The change prevents sand from inside the protected system from being transported outside of it. Since Wrightsville Beach is not within the protected area, sand from the protected Masonboro Inlet cannot be used for the project.

“The CBRA encourages the conservation of biologically rich, hurricane-prone coastal barriers by limiting federal spending and financial assistance that can encourage development, including most dredging, erosion control, and landscaping projects. shoreline stabilization,” Clayton said.

After the change, USACE began looking for other sites, landing on the current option.

Owens said he shares the county’s concerns, saying “everything about the entrance makes sense,” but the city doesn’t have much choice beyond that plan.

“We’re in a dire situation,” Owens said. “Most of us have never seen the beach in the condition it is in.”

He explained that most of the beach berm has disappeared, limiting the space available for bathers, who are now setting up camp closer to the dunes. Vehicles have a harder time traversing soft sand, and the city already restricted access to the bare minimum of emergency vehicles by eliminating garbage trucks earlier this year.

“We tried to push that we had to go back to the entrance, at least this time,” Owens said. “We’ve been basically shut down.”

Wrightsville Beach has had problems getting a beach restoration plan in recent years, which has contributed to recent poor conditions.

The city, along with neighboring Pleasure Island, had a replenishment scheduled for the 2021-22 fiscal year, but the corps did not include funding for them in its annual work plan. Carolina and Kure beaches finally secured restoration funding in October.

last June, U.S. House Representative David Rouzer questioned the body’s decision during a House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee hearing with Lt. Gen. Scott Spellmon, Chief Engineer and Commanding General of USACE.

“Frankly, [that] was a big surprise to everyone up and down the channel — at least those I spoke to,” Rouzer said during the hearing.

Spellmon responded to his concern, explaining that the abundance of flooding in 2019 necessitated that funds be allocated for these rehabilitations instead of sand replacements. He said he was working to reallocate funds from idle or more plentiful sources to get help to Wrightsville Beach.

About $14 million would be needed for the city’s restoration, Spellmon said.

The city received $11.6 million in federal funding in January, which was not enough to cover the project. Local USACE players therefore provided more money to cover the project.

According to Clayton, the USACE wants a site that will support the project’s sand needs through 2036.

“We really need to step up and put some sand on the beach,” Owens said. “The beach is in such a bad state that we have to try.”

He added that large areas of the venues were untouched by tire debris – enough to get the sand the beach needs.

“The body assured the city that it would do everything it could to avoid entering a tire field,” Owens said. “If they enter a tire field, they will do everything to remedy whatever comes out of it.”

Moving forward, Owens said everything is now in USACE’s hands. While he asked the agency to explore other sites, he said there was not enough time to find an alternative.

He estimated that the body would not get the green light until the end of October and that the entire project would not be completed until April 2023. Once the plan is finalized, USACE said the public will have the opportunity to give feedback on the project and see a more detailed mitigation plan.

Contact reporter Brenna Flanagan at [email protected]

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